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The Ides of March Is Assured, Grown-Up Filmmaking

The Ides of March
Directed by George Clooney
Written by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, based on the play “Farragut North” by Willimon
Sony, 2011

I’ll tell you why I like George Clooney, even though sometimes his movies have left me cold.  He uses his star power to make films that don’t look pre-packaged, something geared to appeal to everyone.  There are two types of “grown-up” filmmaking: the type that wildly exaggerates characters and situations because the studios are afraid you won’t like it unless there is a crowd-pleasing element to the story, and the type where characters are allowed to breathe, may not be likeable at all, and situations are tough.

The story of The Ides of March is dirty.  Not the kind where there’s explicit sex or the word “fuck” gets tossed around like “the,” but where idealist characters are put into a tough situation that calls for jugular-cutting action.  Dirty politics are usually reserved for one guy finding scandal on another guy and using it to get an edge.  But how about the dirty politics that might happen within one’s own camp, where promises of a future may cause people to do things they would never do.

The film starts off like something out of the 70’s, where our main character, media strategist Stephen Myers (the great Ryan Gosling) is preparing a stage for Democratic Presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) for the Ohio primaries.  It’s a quiet scene, interesting, strange, and it looks like Myers is the one running for President.  It’s subtext for all the actions that occur later.  When we see Morris saying the same things in an actual Democratic debate that Myers was just saying for preparation, it colors everything Morris says.  It’s watered down.  The effect is on purpose.

Morris’ campaign manager is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I wish could be in every movie), the film’s true man of integrity.  His counterpart for the other candidate is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who one night calls Stephen for a meeting that could get both of them fired.  His pitch: leave the Morris campaign, work for him, get a high-ranking job in the White House come November.  Both candidates are seeking an endorsement from Ohio’s Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), who is playing a bidding war for high office in the White House between the two candidates in return.  The Morris camp believes they have Thompson, but Morris is being told there’s no chance.  He doesn’t know what to do.  He hesitates.  Should he tell his campaign manager what he knows, or jump ship?

Further complicating matters is Stephen’s dalliance with an intern, Molly Stearns (a vibrant Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter of the DNC head, Jack Stearns (24’s really bad President, Gregory Itzin).  She has a secret that will bring the whole campaign down, and now Stephen finds himself right in the middle of it.

This is where the movie gets “dirty.”  It’s where the audience will have a conflict on whether to like its main character or not.  It’s amazing how much Gosling says with his eyes.  He truly is one of the best actors going right now, and he might be one of the last of the younger ones we see for awhile.  Watching the head-to-head between Gosling and Hoffman is the centerpiece of the movie.  Another one between Gosling and Clooney is also great.

This is a really good movie, one that will likely be nominated for a few Oscars.  At the very least, some acting nominations should be in store for this one.  I’m just glad we can see a real, bonafide grown-up film for a change.

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